- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

An intelligence bill before the Senate would authorize a four-year experiment during which federal departments could freely share information about Americans if it was relevant to a foreign intelligence, counterterrorism or anti-proliferation activity.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates condemned the bill.

“This punches yet another enormous hole through the Privacy Act,” said American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani.

The report accompanying the intelligence authorization bill notes that the “information-sharing working group,” made up of representatives from the “intelligence community, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and federal law-enforcement agencies” had published a classified report last year suggesting the changes.

“Certain provisions of the Privacy Act could prevent the sharing of intelligence information within the executive branch,” reads the report, noting that under current law, information about a U.S. citizens held by one government agency cannot be shared with another agency without the person’s permission.

The restriction is part of a raft of provisions in the 1974 Privacy Act, which governs every aspect of the way U.S. agencies gather, store and use personal data.

Although there are 12 exceptions to the restriction, including for information used “to support a civil or criminal law enforcement activity under certain proscribed conditions,” the report says there is no such exemption for intelligence.

Section 307 of the intelligence bill creates one, exempting all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies — and the departments and offices that house them. Under the provision, intelligence agencies also can ask for records from nonintelligence agencies — and be entitled to get them — if the information relates to terrorism.

No court order or other judicial instrument is required, but, to get records from a nonintelligence agency, the director of the inquiring agency must put the request in writing.

It was not clear what the scope of the exemption might mean in practice.

Tax returns, for example, are held by the Internal Revenue Service, part of the Treasury Department, which is covered by the exemption because it is a department that houses an element of the intelligence community. But tax returns also enjoy special protection in the law.

“I don’t trust this kind of expansion of secret intelligence information sharing,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute and a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

“I think they’re going to broaden it and broaden it until it’s where it was in the 1960s and ‘70s,” when intelligence agencies spied on Americans who opposed administration policies, he added.

No one at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the office of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence and the authorization bill’s sponsor, returned calls requesting comment.

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